Chávez, the Organization of American States, and Democracy in International Law


  • Paul Martin



This article examines the Organization of American States (OAS) intervention in the dispute over the democratic character of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s political reforms as a case study of the institutionalization by international organizations of the democratic entitlement. The author first summarizes the democratic entitlement argument before moving to analyze the history of the OAS’s institutional commitment to the concept of democracy protection and promotion. The author argues that the tension between the OAS’s universalist rhetoric and the reality of American hegemony has contributed to what he calls a “post-imperial sensibility” within the organization, which manifests itself in potentially productive ways in the OAS’s operationalization of the democratic reform. The author briefly examines OAS involvement in Venezuela since 2002 as an example of this operationalization and concludes by suggesting that opposition to the democratic entitlement by critical scholars is misplaced, and that efforts to establish it as a principle of international law should be supported.

Author Biography

Paul Martin

Partner, Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, and S.J.D. Candidate, University of Toronto Faculty of Law. This article is based on a paper delivered at “Fostering a Scholarly Network: International Law and Democratic Theory, Second Four Societies Special Colloquium Canada 2008,” held the University of Alberta in September 2008. I am deeply indebted to the other participants for their insightful comments, and to Betsy and the boys for their support and encouragement. Any remaining errors and inconsistencies are exclusively my own. This article was written before the 28 June 2009 coup d’état in Honduras and the OAS’s subsequent suspension of Honduras pursuant to the mechanisms described herein.